Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How to overcome challenges talking to your children in a foreign language

Tips Advice to Raise a Child in Non Native Foreign LanguageRaising children is not an easy task. It is stimulating, exciting, thrilling... one of the greatest experiences that we can have, but definitely: not simple. Sometimes we don't know if what we are doing is right or wrong and the future scare us a bit. However, we improve day by day and we try to do our best to bring up our offspring safely, healthily and affectionately.
The parents that want to speak in English or in any other language to their children since they are little, without being native in that language, add new challenges. While bringing up nonnative bilingual children, parents may go through different periods that can be anticipated.
There are periods of doubts, questions, fears, tiredness, embarrassment, shyness, insecurity and situations where we wonder if all the effort is worth it. But there are also exciting moments full of self-satisfaction, joy and enthusiasm, where we have lots of energy; where we recapitulate and see what we have done so far; where we remember all the reasons why we are doing this; and where we feel self-confident to continue doing what we think is something great for our children.

Not all families raise their children identically. Each one makes their own parenting choices depending on things such as: family members speaking the target language, number of siblings, majority and minority languages spoken in the area, languages learnt at school, kind of school, age of the children, time of exposure to the language, diversity of language input or our fluency in the language.
Each family is going to have their own feelings and experiences. However, as we are dealing with parenting and languages, there are some things that we can have in mind to make this journey easier and let good feelings flow while we raise our children lovingly as any other family, with the exception of the language that we use.

Here you can find some practical advice to overcome some challenges that may appear when we start speaking in a nonnative language to our children:

Learn specific vocabulary for babies and children

The more we are familiarized with this kind of vocabulary and structures, the more self-confident and natural we will feel when talking to our children. Myself, I tend to make lots of mistakes with prepositions, for example: fall down/over/off; sit up/down; stay in/on.... I'm working on that and on verbs too, as there are lots of verbs that are commonly used with babies that I didn't know in English, such as: crawl, swaddle, snuggle, whine, drool...

Keep on improving your English and your pronunciation

We may not sound as a native person, but we can have a great pronunciation, be fluent and learn new words and new expressions every day. If your child is a baby, you need the specific vocabulary that is used with them, but your little child will get older: read, listen to music, watch TV, watch these Youtube channels of American families and see how they talk to their children... you know exactly what I am talking about, you have already done it to speak the way you do it today. Well, keep on doing it. In my opinion, we don't need to speak a language perfectly to raise a bilingual child, but of course, the better we speak, the fewer mistakes our children will make at the beginning and the more self-confident we will feel.

The slower, the better

To start, talk slowly to your child. This will help you to pronounce better and it will give your child time to hear every sound and spot the differences between each syllable and each word. It is going to be great for you as you will pronounce each word perfectly and even have the time to reflect on what you are going to say. Besides, it is going to be great for your child, as he will learn the language gradually. You will have time to speak faster in the future. Your child will understand you perfectly and you will have improved a lot. But at the beginning, there is no need to rush. You don't have to show anyone that you can speak fast and perfectly. You just need to focus on your child. Even parents that talk to their children in their mother tongue speak to them slowly and peacefully.

Don't be too hard on yourself

Don't correct yourself all the time. You might make mistakes while you speak, but stop thinking about it constantly. After saying something, don't start thinking if you have said it right or wrong, if there was a better way to say it, or if you should have used another word. If you do this too much, you will let your fears take control of your daily communication with your child. And the aim is to be confident, fluent and natural. If you stress for every single thing that you say, you are going to loose your self confidence. Let me tell you one thing to make it easier: your child is not an examiner, he worships you!
It is true that, as we are not native, we have to reflect on the language quite often, but the moment to do it is not when we are interacting with our children. A better time could be when we are relaxed sitting on the couch, learning vocabulary for babies, new expressions and new grammatical structures.

Leave no room for negativity

Don't overthink too much about your difficulties and things that you struggle with. Stop thinking about all the things that overwhelm you. Nobody said that raising a bilingual child being nonnative would be a piece of cake. Just remember, that after some time, results will come up: your child  is going to become fluent in different languages. There are many people who have already done it, and it works very well. So don't get too worried if today things don't flow easily, they will eventually get better.   Focus on the things that you have already achieved and remember the reasons why you are doing it. Relish every single moment raising your children and don't let negative feelings be part of it.

Don't be impatient

Results will come up but it takes a while. We already know that some children start speaking when they are a year and a half, some do when they are two, and some of them do it when they are older. Our children may remain silent (or at least in the second language) until they are three or four! Who knows... it depends on a lot of things that we can't control. After all this experience of raising a bilingual child, I am sure we will all become much more patient than we used to be.

Explain to your family what you are doing 

Let them know what you are doing and what you expect from this experience. They may need to ask you some questions and tell you their opinion. They need to understand what you are doing, so they can explain it to other people whenever they need it. Tell them that they have to act naturally: they use their mother tongue and you use another one, it is perfectly fine. Tell them that there are many ways to raise a child and help them to become bilingual and this is what you have chosen. You can tell them examples of other people that have already done the same thing whose children are now older and speak different languages perfectly. And something very important: don't forget being consistent on what you are going to do when they are around. 

Feel good about yourself

Don't be discouraged if you meet other people doing what you do or something similar and they speak better than yourself. Or if their children go to a specific school that yours don't. Or if their children can already do something that yours can't. Each family is different. What you have chosen is what suits your family, it is the right thing for you. You have spent hours and hours thinking about it. It's your choice. It is what you are able to do. It is the best that you have. Feel proud of it. Be happy for the other ones, but above all, be happy with what you do. Feel proud of yourself and your family. You are all exceptional and unique.

Have a normal life

Do normal things, go to the park, go on excursions, provide your child with great moments, with great friends.... Being bilingual is not the only thing that you want for your child. You also want him to be a good person, to be sociable, to be sportive, to enjoy life.... And the great thing is that you may be able to combine sports with language, summer camps with language... In your country or abroad you might find interesting activities that don't focus on language directly, although they use it to communicate and learn or practise other things. We want whole children: skillful, charming, loving, and hopefully, bilingual or multilingual too.

Share your experience with others

Last but not least, talk about your achievements and difficulties with other families. There is a great online community of parents raising bilingual children, and some of us are doing it even though we are not native. Contact us through our blogs or on facebook. We can help each other in the bad moments and we can celebrate the great things all together too.

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